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George ENESCU (1881 - 1955)
Complete Works for Violin and Piano - Volume 2
Violin Sonata No. 1 in D major, Op. 2 [25:35]
Ballade, Op. 4a [4:28]
Tarantella [4:57]
Aubade in C major [4:17]
Hora Unirei [1:38]
Andante malinconico [2:29]
Impressions d'enfance Op. 28 [23:37]
Axel Strauss (violin)
Ilya Poletaev (piano)
rec. Caroline H. Hume concert hall, San Francisco, 2-5 January 2012
NAXOS 8.572692 [67:01]

Enescu has been rather neglected over the years. His Roumanian Rhapsody No.1 has established its place in the orchestral repertoire but little else is regularly heard. Looking back it has to be acknowledged that as a child prodigy he graduated from the Vienna Academy at the tender age of 13. As a violinist he became one of the world's leading soloists. As a composer he was producing some highly mature works in his teenage years. Maybe his time has now arrived and he deserves wider recognition. This CD will help his cause.

Enescu composed his Violin Sonata No.1 when he was 16 years old. It draws from the tradition of Brahms and Beethoven and cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called original. It is, however, still a remarkable piece of work for a teenager. The opening Allegro vivo is full of fire and from the opening bars it is immediately arresting. Enescu then demonstrates his melodic gifts in a flowing second subject. The superb slow movement and final Allegro contain many fugal passages and these are mastered with a high level of technical expertise by the young composer. The writing for violin and piano shows clearly that Enescu was accomplished on both instruments.

The songful Ballade and Tarantella were written when the composer was 14 years old. There's nothing especially memorable to be heard here but this is more evidence of the composer's amazing abilities in his teenage years. The Aubade is a 1903 version of a piece written originally for a string trio four years earlier. It is a smiling, gentle serenade with a tune that stays in the memory. The folk-inspired Hora Unirii and the haunting Andantino malinconico lead the listener into the final work, the fascinating Impressions d'enfance from 1940. This is mature Enescu and is the one work in the recital that is truly original. It comprises ten movements spanning over 23 minutes and I found the whole thing to be simply extraordinary. The suite is a diary of events that tells the story of a day in the life of a child. There is nothing childlike in this expertly written music. We hear a folk fiddler, a garden stream, a caged bird and a cuckoo clock, the howling of the wind in the chimney and a storm, including thunder and lightning. There are some incredible virtuoso effects in Enescu's violin writing as well as a high level of sophistication and communication in every one of the miniatures. Is this a masterpiece? Well, buy the CD and come to your own conclusions. It's certainly a very fine work and nothing like anything I've heard before.

Axel Strauss and Ilya Poletaev play with complete authority and they are clearly at home in Enescu's music having also recorded volume 1 (8.572691) in this Naxos series. Their performance of Impressions d'enfance is especially fabulous. The recorded sound is decent enough but the piano is too far forward and the violin tone is bright and can be harsh in the high register. It's good but could have been so much better. No matter, this still makes for admirable listening.

John Whitmore

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